The Proper Flowers to Leave on a Gravestone—and What They Mean
Leaving flowers on the graves of loved ones is a special practice. Many times, when we tend the graves of those we've lost, we leave arrangements of flowers we think they would have liked or flowers that we know were their favorites in life. It's a meaningful way to honor those who've passed, but there is also a special significance to the flowers that we leave. Each and every plant has a history and a host of symbolic meanings that convey something deeper. Many signify themes or emotions connected to affection, faith, or loss. Flowers can represent feelings from sorrow and regret to pride and devotion. They can recognize the sacrifice of a deceased veteran or admiration for a lost friend.
The practice of leaving flowers at gravesites reaches back thousands of years into ancient cultures around the world. But many of the meanings we associate with flowers today were popularized during Victorian times. Flowers carved onto gravestones also had special meaning: A pair of intertwined roses demonstrated the strong bond of a couple, while a broken blossom indicated a life lost too soon.
So before decorating a gravesite or sending flowers to a funeral, contemplate their meaning. As with anything, there are certain etiquette considerations to keep in mind when sending funeral flowers.
"There are some situations when flowers are not appropriate," said Diane Gottsman, an international etiquette expert, author, and founder of the Protocol School of Texas. "Make sure it does not conflict with a custom or a religious tradition. Sometimes, people are allergic or sensitive to a particular scent. Most often, flowers are a lovely and most appropriate gesture."
After you've chosen your flowers, it can be hard to find the right words to convey your sympathy in a card. Our editors have put together an extensive list of sympathy messages you can include in your card with flowers for a funeral.
Read on to learn some of the symbolic meanings of popular plants and flowers, and spend time thinking about your choices so that you share just the right message with the arrangement you send.
Funeral and Gravestone Flower Symbolism
Amaryllis: beauty, determination, pride
Anemone: protection, anticipation, and sacrifice
Aster: patience, love, and wisdom
Blue iris: hope and faith
Calla lily: faith, purity, and holiness
Camellia: love and devotion
Chamomile: patience and fidelity
Chrysanthemum: white chrysanthemums can represent sorrow or devotion; meaning varies from culture to culture
Crimson rose: mourning and sorrow
Daffodil: rebirth and hope
Daisy: innocence, purity, and happiness
Fern: sincerity and humility
Gardenia: purity and sweetness
Gladiolus: strength and integrity, remembrance and honor
Hyacinth: forgiveness and devotion
Hydrangea: honesty and gratitude, amends and understanding
Ivy: loyalty, faithfulness, friendship
Larkspur: first love, openheartedness
Lavender: devotion, admiration, and beauty
Lilac: innocence, tranquility, and charity
Lily: purity and beauty
Lily-of-the-valley: chastity and sweetness
Magnolia: nobility, endurance, perseverance
Marigold: grief and remembrance; associated with Day of the Dead
Morning glory: affection and friendship
Orchid: love, beauty, and strength
Pansy: sincerity and thoughtfulness
Peony: honor and compassion
Pink carnation or rose: appreciation
Poppy: consolation and remembrance; connected specifically to the remembrance of World War I
Purple iris: wisdom and royalty
Rosemary: remembrance; the use of this herb dates back to burial practices in ancient Egypt and Rome
Red carnation or rose: love and affection; a dark red rose symbolizes grief and sorrow
Rue: sorrow and repentance
Sunflower: adoration and loyalty
Tulip: confidence, affection, and enduring love
Yellow carnation or rose: friendship and gratitude
White iris: purity and faith
White carnation or rose: purity, innocence, and sympathy
Violet: devotion, faithfulness, and friendship
Zinnia: friendship, remembrance, and goodness
What are your most-loved flowers? Do you have special arrangements for the graves of loved ones who have passed?